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Top Chefs Mix it up at Palm Desert Food & Wine

From adult desserts to stone-baked pizzas, the festival serves up tastes for discerning palates.

Neal Turnage Current Digital, Restaurants

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Chef Scott Conant greets foodie fans during Palm Desert Food and Wine Festival on March 23. PHOTOGRAPHS BY TIFFANY L. CLARK

Let them eat cake. Not just any cake, but a Guinness chocolate cake with espresso martini frosting.

Many who attended day two of the Palm Desert Food & Wine festival found the lure of that unofficial opening salvo impossible to resist.

So at 10 a.m. Saturday they flocked to a demo tent, where Top Chef dessert wizard Zac Young kicked things off with his aforementioned adult beverage cake — and did not disappoint when it came to samples. (Think turbocharged birthday-cake-size pieces, generously frosted.)

See related story: Celebrity Chefs Cook Up Four Courses of Goodness at James Beard Luncheon

One bite quickly dispelled any regrets about missing breakfast.

“Dessert is landing the plane,” Young parsed. “The final memory of every meal.”

But not at this festival, where the party was only getting started.

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PHOTOGRAPH BY YASIN CHAUDHRY

Zac Young created a couple of sweet treats for patrons to enjoy.

“This is like a party,” said Peter Yakubeck, general manager of Coachella Valley Brewing Company, part of the wine, beer, and spirit contingency. “It’s my first time [at the festival]. It’s like a nightclub: the trendy music, the tents, the aesthetics … They’ve elevated this festival to another level I haven’t seen before. It’s all about modern.”

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Peter Yakubeck of the Coachella Valley Brewing Company: “They’ve elevated this festival to another level I haven’t seen before. It’s all about modern.”

Local too. Beatrice Eslamboly, self-proclaimed “date lady” of the California Date Commission, loved that aspect. “This festival showcases all the wonderful local products, like dates. Ninety-five percent of all U.S. dates grow right here in the Coachella Valley.”

Her booth was crowded for a reason: the salad. For those who missed it, the Oasis Salad she served is on the menu at Sherman’s Deli, and it’s off the hook with dates, field greens, cornbread croutons, and avocado.

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Chef Stephen Wambach, formerly of 4Saints and Juniper Table at the Kimpton Rowan Palm Springs hotel and now helming his own SMW Inspired private chef service, defines “local” as within 100 miles, enough to include the 83-mile drive to the Dory Fleet Fish Market in Newport Beach, where he sourced the meat for his dungeness crab salad.

His pro tip for demo guests: Get up at 3 a.m. and make the drive. “You’ll find the best West Coast seafood there and taste the difference.”

The aromas of garlic and onion and fresh bread wafted only a few steps out of his tent. The source was chef John Liddell, who served up stone-baked pizza in Monogram Appliances’ new Hearth oven.

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Ruth’s Chris serves up some tasty burgers.

That morphed into the unmistakable scent of smoky burgers as Ruth Chris’ Steakhouse station served up sliders. However, it was inside a nearby tent that Workshop Kitchen + Bar executive chef Michael Beckman took the burger concept and ran it into the end zone.

Following the James Beard-inspired “blended burger” movement, where 25 percent of the burger must be mushrooms, Beckman demonstrated and sampled sliders made with cremini mushrooms poached in braised oxtail. Then he blended it all into ground chuck for the sustainable burger of the moment.

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Chef John Liddell who served up stone-baked pizza in Monogram Appliance’s new Hearth oven.

“Imagine if the whole country eliminated a percentage of beef from their burgers,” Beckman says. “What a difference that would make in reducing our overall footprint.”

Palm Desert Food & Wine continues Sunday with a grand tasting, chef demonstrations, and other programming. For a ticket to Sunday’s grand tasting, visit palmdesertfoodandwine.com.